By Dustin Brewer
Combining the casts of the original “X-Men” trilogy as well as “X-Men: First Class,” “Days of Future Past” finds the mutants trying to avoid extinction in the best “X-Men” film since “X2.”
In a bleak, war torn future the X-Men have been reduced to a small resistance of mutants trying to preserve their species. They roam from place to place as they run from an army of virtually unstoppable sentinels that can adapt to their individual powers that is hellbent on wiping them out as brutally as possible.
This is the world that we find the X-Men in in “Days of Future Past” and with their backs against the wall, they turn to their last resort plan; someone is going to have to go back to 1973 where an assassination previously sealed their fate.
Kitty Pryde (played by Ellen Page) can now send peoples’ consciousnesses back to their older selves, a move they use to try and stay one step ahead of the ever-hunting sentinels which gives Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) the idea of sending his mind back to his younger body (James McAvoy) where he can hopefully prevent the assassination of sentinel inventor Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by his childhood friend Raven aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Unfortunately though, the effects of traveling back that far would devastate Xavier’s mind. But what if the person sent back could heal themselves immediately after? Enter Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) who is then sent back to 1973 to meet with the younger Charles Xavier and convince him to help change the future.
Taking inspiration from one of the X-Men’s most famous comic-arcs, the film does take some liberties for the sake of keeping up with their continuity. Kitty Pryde herself was the one to make the trip back but in the filmmaker’s words themselves, “If we did that, she’d be -20 in 1973.” Going with Wolverine, who can heal himself and never ages does present itself as a convenient way to keep the biggest name in the franchise at the front and it works well regardless.
From there the film, a sequel to both “X-Men: The Last Stand” and to the prequel “First Class” takes off and manages to deliver the storytelling of the originals along with the fantastic characters that “First Class” worked so hard to build.
McAvoy’s Charles Xavier is a man so broken by of Raven and Erik (Who’s gone full Magneto, again played by Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) leaving him and the loss of hundreds of students/teachers due to the war in Vietnam that he’s stopped going by Professor and instead has become a shut-in with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) acting as a caretaker of sorts to the man who’ll go on to become a mentor to so many. McAvoy gets the chance to build a side of the character that because of Stewart’s characterization, you’d think could never exist and he doesn’t disappoint, seeing him jaded and hesitant to even try to help Wolverine creates a lot more emotion than expected.
All around though, the performances are excellent. Jackman gets to put a new spin on Wolverine as he has to try and play the voice of reason despite all his instincts to the opposite. Hoult’s Beast looks a lot better than “First Class” where he looked like a blue teen wolf and he plays the sympathy and affection he has towards Xavier and even Raven as natural without it ever getting too hokey or schmaltzy and Lawrence as Raven gets to go a bit darker than she ever has before as Raven slowly starts turning more and more into Mystique. Her relationships with both Charles and Erik have made an impact on her and we see the effects both have on her throughout.
Hands down though, as was with “First Class,” the movie belongs to Fassbender’s young Erik. Perfectly capturing the character McKellen created, he infuses him with a dangerous edge that is made scarier by the realization that it may be part of his plan all along.
(We here at HefferBrew are aware of the allegations that were claimed recently against the film’s director Bryan Singer. We aren’t going to focus on that and instead just look at the film as a finished product. Hopefully, the truth comes out soon and the right people will face proper punishment)
This film also marks the return of the franchise’s original director, Bryan Singer, who brings the same energy as his earlier two films in the series as well as handling the 70s with the same nostalgia that Matthew Vaughn captured so well in “First Class’s” 60s. After leaving the X-Men franchise after two films, Singer has had difficulties with big-budget movies that didn’t perform to expectations or contain the same type of heart that his “X-Men” did so this film also acts as a return to form for him, hopefully meaning he’ll stick around past 2016’s already-announced “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
Singer shows a smart eye at setting up and executing an action sequence and the film’s big set piece at the end is a sight to behold for sure.
In another standout moment, young mutant Quicksilver helps Wolverine, Xavier and McCoy break Erik out of a prison 100s of feet below the Pentagon. Set to “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce, Quicksilver speeds through the prison as everything and everyone around him almost stand still. It’s one of the few sequences that is outright funny as overall the film tries to focus on the threat of the impending future though it does play Wolverine in the past for some solid laughs early on as well.
Really the only downside is that there are too many mutants for a lot of them to really get a chance to shine. Iceman, Colossus, Sunspot, Warpath, Blink and even Halle Berry’s Storm all get a few moments to show what they can do but ultimately come and go too fast to make too memorable an impact. The film belongs to its’ top four of Fassbender, Jackman, McAvoy and Lawrence and even then, they wisely keep the central conflict the relationship Raven has with Xavier and Erik and avoids just having Jackman rush in and save the day.
Actions and their consequences are at the heart of “Days of Future Past” and though the continuity to the other films in the series isn’t all that consistent, it acts as a perfect jumping off point to re-invigorate the series. The news that “Apocalypse” will act as more of a “First Class” sequel set in the 80s is great and even better; Fassbender, McAvoy, Hoult and Lawrence are all signed on to return again.
The future for the X-Men looks pretty bright after all.